Chronic Relapsers

“There’s a person, then there’s people; I don’t know which one I am.
There’s a person, then there’s people; I don’t know which one I am.
They say a person shows his worth
To the people of the earth
And they choose to bless or damn him for doing what he can.”
~ Old song

My homegroup voted me chairperson. Sobrenity has over 50 meetings a week – so I’m not the guy who chairs all the meetings – it’s more like “President”. Except that I have no power. I’m really just the guy who chairs the business meeting. Even there, I’m not allowed to vote.

About 1/3 of the people think I’m “power hungry” and “trying to take over”. Another third thinks I’m “a lazy shit who doesn’t do anything”. The last third are pretty happy with me, mostly because they don’t have to do anything. I survive by reminding myself that getting it right 1/3 of the time is better than weathermen do, and that a .333 batting average would get me into the record books.

It’s not in my job description, but most people think I’m “the guy who is supposed to make everything right” (note: it ain’t happenin’!). Every time I go there 2 to 5 people want to tell me what I need to fix. Most of the issues are as silly as someone doing service work, but not doing it the way the complainer would like them to. Mostly I guess they just want to be heard. They want to bitch and get it out of their system. I don’t promise them I’m going to fix it; I just listen to their concern. They look like they feel better after they tell me about it – and I never hear about it again – so I guess I’m handling it right.

There’s one concern though, that I’m going to have to deal with, but I’m completely out of my league. You see, when I began admitting that I was crazy – that I believed things that weren’t true, that I was wrong at least as often as I was right – I began to see more than one side to every issue. Now I have to spend a lot of time and effort – not so much to find the truth, I don’t know if there is one – but to find out who I want to be.

The issue pressing me today is: “How do you handle a drunk (or drug addict) who won’t stop using?” What do you do when they keep coming to meetings drunk. How do you handle it when they smoke spice behind the building? What do you do when they show up with their friends who have no interest in recovery and just hang out?

We’re not the church. We don’t have to love everyone. Part of me wants to beat the shit out of him. I want to shake him and yell: “Don’t you know you’re putting these people’s lives in danger! Don’t you know that some of these people here today only want to stay sober with 51% of their heart!!! They’re on the fence and they can go either way. My job is to PROTECT them! There has to be ONE place in the WHOLE FUCKING WORLD where they can come and not be tempted by drugs and alcohol. There has to be ONE safe place where they won’t see billboards or commercials about alcohol; where they won’t see beer bottles or blunt wrappers… You’re putting their lives in danger.”

Then I remember one of my first A.A. heroes. He taught me that in A.A. we don’t shoot our wounded. His name was Jim also, and he was from my hometown: D.C. I was taking care of my five year old daughter who had leukemia, and he was taking care of his 80 year old father who had cancer. He told me his story one day.

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I was in Vietnam in the sixties. When we were on maneuvers the Army gave us opiates to help us sleep at night, and amphetamines to help us stay alert during the day. But you see, they didn’t know! Ain’t nobody sleepin’ in Charlie’s jungle at night, cause Charlie don’t sleep. So we took the amphetamines to stay awake all night. Then we’d take the morphine to kill the pain o’ walkin all day. ‘Fore long we found out heroin was even better.

So when I got back to the states, I only knew how to do two things: take drugs and kill people. I found out that both of those were legal in D.C., so long as you only killed the black folk.

I was on full disability, but they said I had to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting every day to collect it. Nobody said I had to go sober, though. So for ten years I used to shoot heroin and go to an A.A. meeting. They used to ask me: “Big Jim, please don’t shoot dope in our bathroom no more.”

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By the time I met him, Big Jim had 19 years of sobriety, but it took him going to a meeting every day for ten years while shooting heroin to become willing. I’ve seen other chronic relapsers recover, as well. Is that the right answer: to work my own program and let him work his?

When I think about it rationally – not let either Serotonin or Testosterone talk for me – I realize the best bet is to rely on the 3rd tradition: The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking. I want to have a serious conversation with him. This is what I would tell him:

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Do you know what the worst thing A.A. – Sobrenity – can do to you is? It’s not “throw you out”; it’s “give you a soft place to land”. You see, if we steal your bottom – make you comfortable when your life bottoms out because of drugs and alcohol – you will look back on it and say: “That wasn’t so bad!”. If we give you a warm place to sit, coffee to drink and people to talk with then you may never truly recover. Next week or next month you may decide to use again and end up in over your head. You may die.

Golf clubs supposedly have a sweet spot. If you hit the ball too far on one side you hook it, too far on the other and you slice it… That sweet spot is pretty small. That’s why most people get so frustrated playing golf.

Sobriety has an even smaller “sweet spot”. If you don’t suffer enough you tend to think you have other options: cutting back, changing drugs, “if I only had a girlfriend”… Relapsing – either on alcohol or other drugs – is a good sign that you are missing the sweet spot; you aren’t ready to quit yet. On the other hand if you go down too far you can’t come back. Some people die. 90% (or more) of the people in prison are there for a single bad decision made while under the influence. This is Florida, baby! People snort bath salts and eat people’s faces.

In A.A. we call that sweet spot: “Desperation”. A.A. is not a program of moderation or occasional use. You have to believe – know deep in your heart – that you are powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable before it will work. Giving you a friendly place to “hang out” is not helping you to believe that. If being hungry, tired, cold, broke and friendless brings you to the level where we can help you, then we owe it to you to give you that gift.

“Please leave” is the most loving thing we can say to you at this point. Please come back when you want what we have.

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I am constantly reminded that I am not the man who answers the questions. I am the man who questions the answers.

This entry was posted in A.A. Heroes, Early Sobriety, Feelings and Emotions, Relapse, Traditions. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Chronic Relapsers

  1. Great post. In my first 2 months I was a relapser. If I’m honest I think I deliberately relapsed so the other members would be nice to me. It was the first dose if kindness I had experienced in such a long time. The older members seemed to invest so much time & energy on the newcomers that I think I wanted ti stay a newcomer. Eventually a very kind woman said “honey, stop wasting our time. When you’re really ready to stop we’ll help you but if you’re not ready to stop we can’t help you” That totally sorted me out. I got serious not long long after. That women helped give me the gift of desperation.

  2. Well said. I don’t mind the guys and gals who sit on the fence, who have that 51% going on…that we can work with. Keep coming until you catch that alcoholism. It is the “time wasters” who I was really angry with…those who clearly did not want it and were there to get the heat off – get the courts, mom, husband, girlfriend, work, etc. off their backs. I learned that it’s not my place to direct them to misery and desperation – that is where they need to find it themselves. I learned it’s not my place to tell them that they aren’t welcome, or to show disdain for them. I treat them as the sick folks that they are….just like how I used to be. I have learned that I am there to share my own experience and hope that they identify.

    I haven’t been around long – only 2 1/2 years, but working with guys and being in the rooms a lot and hanging with enough alcoholics and addicts – I am pretty good at spotting those who want it, and those who are jerking their chain around. I learned because I sponsored several men who claimed they wanted it, but didn’t show it in their actions. And that’s fine – I am not there to chase them down. But when they don’t want it, it shows. And the relapses happen – maybe not right away, but there is something off. Recovery isn’t at top of mind. There isn’t that desperation you speak of. And people disappear. some may return, but I don’t hear from guys any more and I can only pray that they are well and that if and when they need to reach out…I am there, or AA is there in some way.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  3. Moriah says:

    Wow – sounds like you think you’re pretty high & mighty! “More like – the president.” You’re no different than the dude who keeps relapsing. You’re exactly the same. Find some humility or go back out until you do.

    • AsJimSeesIt says:

      You’re hilarious. If I tell people I’m the chairperson, they ask “Which meeting?”. If it was a club and not a group, the title of the position would be president. Whatever I’m doing, it seems to be working for me. I haven’t had a drink this entire millennium. I hope you find something that works for you.

      And you’re right: I’m exactly like the people who relapse… except I don’t relapse. You obviously didn’t read the whole story, or you’d see that some of my biggest heroes are people who relapsed for many years. You’re obviously an internet troll, probably one who can’t stay sober and is looking for someone to blame it on. Good luck with that.

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